No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.Mark 3:27
Have you ever watched an “end of the world” movie? My family and I watch these every now and again. (They like to give me a hard time about my request to watch “Independence Day” every year on the Fourth of July.) But we’ve noticed that all of these movies follow the same basic formula. The main character is, at first, the only one who knows the truth, that the world is in grave danger. This person has discovered that the reason for all the power failures is an imminent alien invasion, or that the strange weather over the Pacific Ocean is a dangerous break in the atmosphere, or that the illness that can’t seem to be diagnosed is a deadly new virus. (That one hits a little too close to home these days!)
But you get the idea, right? This person, usually some brilliant but unknown scientist, discovers the truth, and is trying desperately to convince the powers-that-be that the world is in terrible danger. But everyone thinks this poor person has gone out of their mind. Even their own family and friends usually think they have lost their senses. But then it becomes apparent that this person was right all along. And now, everyone turns in desperation to this person, seeking their advice, and hoping that they have a plan to save them all. And because it’s Hollywood, this person usually does.
Today’s Gospel Reading
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is the one who knows the truth: That the world is in grave danger. The world is being controlled by sin, and by Satan. And Jesus knows that these forces are more than the world can handle, more than we can handle. He is the only one who can save the world from them.
But almost nobody believes him. His family thinks he has gone out of his mind. They have come to restrain him. The religious leaders think that he is working with the devil. They think that he has an unclean spirit. But the truth is almost exactly the opposite. It is the world that has gone out of its mind. The world, you might say, has an unclean spirit, and is being ruled by Satan. And Jesus has come to save the world. He has come to free the world from its captivity to sin, death and the devil. And he has come to bring the world to its senses. Before it is too late.
And, when you think about it, that is still Jesus’ mission today. This same message is still the one that we need to hear: That the world is in grave danger. It has gone out of its mind. And it is being ruled by powers that secretly want to destroy it. And Jesus is the only one who can save it, who can save us.
Repent! Come to Your Senses!
This is so important to Jesus, so central to what he is about, that his opening words in Mark’s gospel make this exact point. The very first thing that Jesus says to the world in Mark’s gospel is this:
The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.Mark 1:15
The time has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent. Change your mind, literally. Come to your senses. And believe the good news, believe Jesus.
Everything else that Jesus said and did was simply a way of showing this truth, and then bringing this truth to fruition. His teaching, his healing, his casting out demons? All of this was to show that he is who he says, the Messiah, the Son of God. And his death on the cross? This was the only way to bring us the kingdom of God, and to bring an end to Satan’s reign on earth.
Just like in those end-of-the-world movies, Jesus is the only person who knows the truth. So he comes into our world and says to us, “metanoia!” Repent! Change your mind! Come to your senses!
Jesus feels so strongly about this that he is willing to risk losing his family over it. He doesn’t want to lose them, but he’s willing to. Just like in those end-of-the-world movies, Jesus is willing to be dismissed by his family because he knows that the only way to save his family is by dying for them. He can’t save them as a son, or as a brother. He can only save them as their Messiah, who dies on a cross for them, and for our dying world.
Only Jesus knows this truth, at first. And he names as his true family all who accept this truth. All who change their mind. All who repent. And all who then join him in doing the will of God in this world. All who do that are his true family.
This will eventually include his mother and his brothers. We know that they would eventually accept this truth. But this will also come to include us – who are here to be reminded of this truth; who are here to repent, to change our minds again, and return to Jesus and to the gospel and to the only truth that matters, and to the only one who can truly save our world, Jesus Christ our Savior.
The Good News – The Strong Man Is Bound
But this is only the first part of this truth, and the first part of this gospel reading. There is another truth that is critical for us to remember today. Remember how Jesus began his ministry by inviting us to repent and believe in the good news? I’ve covered the “repent” part, but what about the rest? What about believing in the good news? What is the good news in today’s gospel reading?
Jesus tells us in this reading that he has come to “tie up the strong man,” to bind Satan. And that is exactly what he has done. And that is very good news.
It is a rather strange way of putting it, of course. But that is what Jesus says:
No one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.Mark 3:27
This makes perfect sense when you think of the strong man as Satan. That is who Jesus has come to tie up. And on the cross, he did exactly that.
And now? We can battle the evil in our world without fear, because the devil himself is tied up. There is still work to be done, to be sure. There is still evil in this world, and sin and hatred and injustice everywhere we look. All too much of it. But we can face it confidently, knowing the one behind all of this evil is now tied up and helpless. Now that the strong man is bound, we can get to work
I love how Martin Luther describes this, in his usual colorful way, when he says that the strong man being bound is kind of like a “bad dog on a chain” – barking, running here and there, but tied up and unable to hurt us. Here are Luther’s words:
Why should you fear? Why should you be afraid? Do you not know that the prince of this world has been judged? He is no lord, no prince any more. You have a different, a stronger Lord, Christ, who has overcome and bound him.
Therefore let the prince and god of this world look sour, bare his teeth, make a great noise, threaten, and act in an unmannerly way; he can do no more than a bad dog on a chain, which may bark, run here and there, and tear at the chain. But because it is tied and you avoid it, it cannot bite you.
The devil can bare his teeth, make a great noise, but he can’t break free of his chain. He can’t bite us. Not any more. So we need not be afraid of him. There is still evil in our world, obviously. But we can fight it without fear, because we believe the good news that Jesus has proclaimed to us. That the strong man is tied up. That Satan is defeated. Baring his teeth, barking, but helpless to do anything more.
So now, we can get to work, being the church in the world. We can fight evil in this world. We can feed the hungry, care for the sick, and proclaim the good news of Jesus to all. We can strive for justice and peace throughout the earth. We can do everything that Jesus asks us to do, commands us to do, because Jesus has already done the hard part. He has bound the strong man. We can now plunder the house, in Jesus’ colorful phrase, and spread God’s love to all.
It might seem crazy, but it’s all true. Jesus hasn’t gone out of his mind. He is not in league with Satan. He has come to bind Satan, and to help the world come to its senses. And today, Jesus invites us to come to our senses, to be reminded of all that Jesus came to teach us.
Today, as is true every Sunday, we are invited to change our minds. To repent, and to believe in the good news. And then, as brothers and sisters of Jesus himself, we are invited to go into the world, proclaim the good news, and help the world to its senses. To work against the evil still in our world. To give everything we have to bring about the kingdom. And to do so with confidence and even joy. Because at our side is the hero himself. The one who can save our world. And who, on the cross, already has. Thanks be to God. Amen